x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Three more schools to open for villa pupils

As villa schools are closed, parents and staff fear replacement buildings will be too few in number and fees may rise.

Students from the former Pioneers International School, one of the emirate’s villa schools to be axed by the Government. Lauren Lancaster / The National
Students from the former Pioneers International School, one of the emirate’s villa schools to be axed by the Government. Lauren Lancaster / The National

ABU DHABI // At least three more schools will be opened next year to take pupils from the emirate's villa schools - but some principals and parents are still concerned this number is too low.

The villa schools, which cater primarily for Indian, Filipino and Palestinian children, have been told they will all have to close by the end of the 2013/14 academic year.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) has ruled that they fail to provide an adequate education in a safe environment.

So far 10 have closed, with more due to shut by the end of the current academic year. They now have to find alternative buildings, or leave their pupils without a school place.

Adec said this week that it would make three refurbished government school buildings in the capital available for any villa schools that want them, with a possibility of a fourth in Al Ain still under discussion.

However, there are still concerns among those running villa schools. The principal of one, an Indian school in the capital, said she fears she will be left with no choice but to close.

"They don't want villa schools, what can we say?" she said. "These are the rules, we don't have a choice. They are only bothered about the pupils, what about the teachers?

"The fees will be too high and many families will have to send their children back to their home country.

"In reality, they have only given one school to [replace] the six shut last year, and none to an Indian school. One was given in Ruwais, which is one and a half hours away, parents can't send their children there.

"This is a very clear message they are given us; you want to educate your child and you have low income? Then send them home."

At the end of the last academic year in June, six villa schools were closed. In their place are three schools in buildings previously used by government schools.

One of those, the former August 6th School, was given to Pioneers International School.

As a villa school it had 520 full-time pupils. The new building has allowed the school, renamed the Philippines Academy, to increase its roll by about 200.

Maria Fernandes says her daughter Stephanie, a grade eight student, is much happier in the new Philippines Academy.

"There is a big difference between the two schools," she said. "The environment has helped the kids study as they are now free to move.

"The new building can accommodate 1,200 pupils, whereas before over 500 students were cramped in this villa, which is only supposed to accommodate a family."

But concern remains among parents whose children attend schools that have not yet made the move. Grace Bsuel, 38, said she was worried about a rise in fees.

"I am worried that it will be too far and I'm also worried about the cost," she said. "No one has given us any definite answer on when we will be moved, or if we need to find a place for ourselves."